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Thursday, April 16, 1998 Published at 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK

RUC will stay: Blair
image: [ Republicans say RUC has lost the support of their community ]
Republicans say RUC has lost the support of their community

The Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged that the Royal Ulster Constabulary will not be disbanded as part of the Northern Ireland peace settlement.

Responding to calls from unionists for clarification on three critical areas of the peace deal, Mr Blair made clear that the proposed commission on the future of policing in the province would not lead to the RUC being replaced by "ad hoc groups of former paramilitaries".

Mr Blair was speaking after the highly influential Grand Lodge of the Orange Order, which represents thousands of Protestants across the province, said the future of the RUC was one of its key concerns.

They have been echoed by David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists. He has called on the prime minister to answer legitimate concerns.

"There is going to be pressure all the way through to the referendum and even afterwards," Mr Blair said.

[ image: Blair: No to
Blair: No to "ad hoc groups of former paramilitaries"
"But there is no question of disbanding the RUC.

"What we want is a police force that genuinely has the support of the people.

"The purpose is to make sure that the police force operates as any normal police force.

"There is no question of disbanding the RUC and replacing it with ad hoc groups of former paramilitaries and all the other scare stories that are being put about by opponents of the peace deal."

Republican demand

The peace agreement includes proposals for an independent commission into the future of policing and a review of other criminal justice matters.

While Mr Blair's pledge may reassure unionists ahead of Saturday's Ulster Unionist Council meeting to vote on the deal, it could have the opposite effect in nationalist and republican camps.

[ image: Republicans accuse the RUC of provoking violence]
Republicans accuse the RUC of provoking violence
Sinn Fein entered the peace talks claiming that the police in Northern Ireland had lost the confidence of Catholics, nationalists and republicans and the force had to be scrapped.

The campaign against the RUC gathered momentum earlier in April when a report by the United Nations accused it of "systematic intimidation, hindrance and harassment" of lawyers who represent paramilitary suspects.

Demands for clarification

The Grand Lodge of the Orange Order met for six hours on Wednesday and concluded it could not support the peace blueprint without further clarifications, including fears over the release of prisoners jailed for paramilitary offences.

In response, Mr Blair said the wishes of families of RUC members killed or injured during The Troubles would be respected.

Paramilitary prisoners would be released only if they were members of organisations that had "genuinely and properly given up violence", he said.

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